A boil is a pus filled lesion that is painful and firm to the touch. Also called furuncles, boils are relatively common and harmless, but they can cause concern if they appear on the breast.
In this article, we discuss the possible causes, symptoms, and treatment of a breast boil. We also cover home remedies, healing time, complications, and when to see a doctor, before answering some frequently asked questions.
Boils are abscesses that develop under the skin. They result from the infection of a hair follicle and the surrounding skin. Small cracks develop in the skin of the breast and nipple, allowing Staphylococcus aureus bacteria to enter the body.
Other causes include an ingrown hair or foreign material within the skin.
Boils generally form on areas of the body that have hair and are prone to sweating and subject to friction. These areas include the face, armpits, shoulders, and buttocks. However, boils can appear on other parts of the body.
Early symptoms of a boil include:
- appearance of a small, red, painful lump
- pus developing in the lump, usually within 24 hours
- whitish discharge
- surrounding skin swelling up
A boil may appear similar to a pimple. Learn how to tell the difference here.
Over time, several boils may cluster around the original one, creating a carbuncle. A person may also develop a fever. These are signs that further treatment may be necessary.
Boils are rarely a cause for concern, and they may heal on their own. However, if they become more painful as the pus builds up, people can try the following steps:
- Compresses: To heal, boils generally need to open and drain. This process often occurs within a couple of weeks. A warm, moist compress can help bring the pus to the surface. People can apply the compress several times a day for 10–15 minutes to assist with draining.
- Keep the area clean: Once a boil starts draining, it is important to keep it clean with antibacterial soap and maintain the use of warm compresses.
- Ointment and bandage: Applying an antiseptic ointment and a sterile gauze bandage over the area can protect it until it has healed. People should change the bandage if it gets wet or dirty and always throw away used dressings in a sealed bag.
Washing the hands before and after the treatment of a boil is important to promote healing and avoid spreading the infection.
A person should never attempt to burst or pop a boil, as this can spread the infection and lead to scarring.
There are many popular natural and home remedies for boils, but there is generally a lack of research on their safety and effectiveness.
A pharmacist can recommend over-the-counter treatments to help heal a boil on the breast and prevent complications.
In cases of severe or recurring boils, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics. They may sometimes recommend draining the boil, which will take place in a hospital using sterile equipment.
If at-home treatment of a breast boil does not reduce its symptoms and appearance after 2 weeks, medical assistance is advisable.
If a boil becomes larger and more severe, it is best to speak to a doctor. A person will also require medical attention if:
- they have a fever and feel generally unwell
- red streaks appear around the boil
- the boil does not drain
- additional boils appear
- the boil keeps recurring after initially healing
A doctor may investigate the cause of recurring or severe boils using a blood test or skin swab.
Below, we answer some commonly asked questions about breast boils.
Are there ways to help prevent breast boils?
Yes, there are steps a person can take to reduce the risk.
Washing the whole body regularly with a mild soap, eating a healthful diet, and exercising regularly can help boost the immune system.
However, boils on the breast can develop due to heavy sweating and friction with clothing. People can help avoid this by wearing suitable clothes for exercising and washing the body thoroughly after extensive exercise.
Obesity and smoking are also potential risk factors for recurring boils.
Should I go to the doctor if breast boils keep recurring?
It is best to visit a doctor abut recurring boils, as they can take a medical swab from the boil to help them determine further treatment options.
Can a breast boil become cancer?
Even though raised bumps on the skin are common, it is always best to consult a medical professional about any concerns.
Should I lance the boil myself?
No, a medical professional must do this as they will numb the area first. If the pain is very uncomfortable, an anti-inflammatory pain reliever can help. Also, do not squeeze or scratch the boil.
Will a boil recur after treatment?
There is no way of knowing whether a boil will recur. A United Kingdom study found that 10% of people who sought primary care for a boil or abscess developed a repeat boil or abscess within 12 months.
There are key indications that a boil on the breast needs assessment by a doctor. Generally, if it fails to heal after 2 weeks, or other lesions emerge, a person should seek further treatment.
In most cases, though, a boil on the breast will clear up on its own with simple heat compresses. It is advisable to seek medical advice before trying supplementary treatment methods.